Market Insight

The power semiconductor market is booming: highlights from PCIM Europe 2017

June 12, 2017

Richard Eden Richard Eden Principal Analyst, Power Semiconductors
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Highlights

  • In 2017, many suppliers expressed the opinion that the discrete power semiconductor industry is seeing its best growth since 2012, increasing across many sectors, led by automotive applications in particular
  • As a result, several semiconductor manufacturers talked about delivery lead-times increasing and factory capacity allocations on certain products, such as MOSFETs, thyristors and rectifiers
  • There are shortages of 6-inch and 8-inch diameter silicon wafers, which are starting to affect production of some commodity mixed-signal ICs
  • These supply chain problems are thought to be short-term issues, which should be resolved before the end of the year. However, if demand continues to increase, they could continue into next year

Insights

  • In contrast to the “lively” market for discrete power semiconductors, the power module market is growing more slowly. The market for lower power, discrete semiconductors is usually more dynamic than the market for higher power products, such as power modules. Several manufacturers of high-power devices commented that they are still hopeful that that market will pick up pace later in 2017 or 2018. New high-power projects typically take longer to get started because they typically have longer design cycles and are often government-sponsored infrastructure schemes, so can be delayed by bureaucracy
  • The introduction of fifth-generation (5G) mobile communication infrastructure presents a good opportunity for power semiconductors. 5G base stations will be more numerous but smaller than 4G base stations. The quantity of power semiconductor devices will therefore probably be less plentiful than currently, but there should be a lot more units built and installed. Furthermore, it is very likely that each base station will use envelope tracking in each of its RF power amplifiers, and there could be up to 64 power amplifiers per base station. Each envelope tracking circuit will require a control IC and a high-speed power switch/transistor. According to EPC CEO, Alex Lidow, GaN power transistors could be ideal to meet the switching frequencies involved. Mitsubishi Electric, Nokia Bell Labs and the Center for Wireless Communications at UC San Diego recently announced the joint development of the first ultra-fast gallium nitride (GaN) envelope-tracking power amplifier (PA)

SiC and GaN power developments march forward

  • The number of SiC and GaN power semiconductor manufacturers exhibiting at PCIM continues to grow. Leading SiC suppliers, such as Wolfspeed, ROHM, Infineon, Global Power Technologies, STMicroelectronics and United Silicon Carbide, were joined by Sumitomo Electric, for the first time in five years, and newcomer, Brückewell Technology of Taiwan. Littelfuse showed its new range of SiC Schottky Barrier Diodes and SiC MOSFETs developed with its investment partner Monolith Semiconductor
  • Leading GaN power semiconductor suppliers, such as GaN Systems, Transphorm, Panasonic, EpiGaN, and Exagan, were joined by VisIC Technologies of Israel for the first time. The GaN IC company Navitas joined leading low-voltage GaN supplier EPC in contributing conference papers, but did not exhibit at the trade show
  • A significant development that will help engineers to use the increasing number of available wide band-gap devices with ease, is the number of IC companies launching gate driver ICs for devices. These ICs are usually modified IGBT gate driver ICs, and are available from STMicroelectronics, Infineon, Concept, Texas Instruments, Microsemi, Prodrive Technologies and others
  • Another company to be added to this list is Agileswitch LLC of Philadelphia, PA, which made its PCIM debut this year. Agileswitch is a recent start-up, developing software-configurable gate driver ICs, optimized for use with SiC MOSFETs and SiC MOSFET modules

Power modules target the automotive sector

  • As growth in the industrial market sector, including industrial motor drives, has been slow this year, power module manufacturers are shifting their focus to the automotive sector. Semikron and Danfoss Silicon Power both reported that they are developing modules for use in the inverters in electric passenger vehicles. The inverter powertrain used in electric and hybrid electric vehicles (H/EVs) is due to undergo big changes and growth because of the tightening of vehicle emission regulations, particularly in the European Union. However, it is thought unlikely to be a very large market until the early- to mid-2020s
  • The wider operating temperatures and tougher vibration specifications in under-the-hood H/EV applications are requiring technical developments in materials, module package designs and assembly techniques. They also suit the benefits of wide band-gap semiconductor components, which are more rugged and can operate across wider temperature ranges
  • Silicon carbide devices are already in use in the on-board battery chargers of electric buses, taxis and lorries, as well as passenger cars. Wolfspeed claimed that its 900V SiC MOSFET platform, launched at PCIM in 2015, is proving popular with electric vehicle battery voltages of 450V, which would have historically used 650V silicon devices. As vehicle battery voltages climb to 850V, they state 1.2kV SiC MOSFETs will be preferred

IHS Markit Power Semiconductor Intelligence Service explores the latest trends and challenges affecting the current and future market for power semiconductor devices, modules and Power ICs and the applications using them. For more information, contact the sales department at IHS Markit in the Americas at +1 844 301 7334 or Americas Leads in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at +44 1344 328 300 or technology EMEA, or Asia-Pacific (APAC) at +604 291 3600 or technology APAC.

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